No pair of undrafted players surprised more in the past several days than the pair of cornerbacks who are expected to compete for practice squad spots: Bobby Felder, highlighted yesterday, and Reggie Jones—a star cornerback for Portland State.
Reggie Jones represents somewhat of a paradox: he has much more experience than his main competition, but has yet to play a snap in regular season play.
Making the squad will be no easy feat, given the level of attention the Vikings gave the cornerback position in the offseason.
But Reggie Jones is no stranger to adversity.
At age 13, he suffered tragedy as his mother was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of his stepfather—the man who taught him how to play football.
After that, he found himself with the primary responsibility of taking care of his sisters.
"Not having my mom around, not having my dad; I had to be a father figure to my little sisters," the young father of one said. "I never wanted them to see me weak. Never wanted them to see that it's OK to quit or that it's OK to just give up."
Jones' career has certainly been marked by perseverance.
When he initially played at Kent Meridian high school in Washington, his team only won two games in three years."It's not supposed to be an 'I' thing, but I figured that I would just do everything I could to try to put us in a position to win," he said. "I obviously can't do everything on the field, but I would do everything that I can to put us in the right position and just hope that everyone else does the same thing."
Indeed, over the course of his career, he has played as a punter, kicker, receiver, cornerback and as a special teams returner.
It was in high school that he earned the nickname "Showtime," something that follows him to this day.
His natural skill and hard work at Meridian allowed him to play football for Idaho State, where he was an injury worry for many fans. More frustrating to him than injury, however, were the frequent coaching changes. After the third coaching turnover in as many years, he followed his coaching staff to Portland State after they recruited him.
He sat out one year because of NCAA eligibility rules, and turned in a dominating performance at Portland State his senior year, earning him consideration as a late second round pick in the NFL draft.
Unfortunately, that fell through, and he went undrafted. Moments after the draft ended, the Saints called him to sign him onto their roster.
After the crushing blow of being undrafted, Jones jumped on the chance. Unfortunately, he spent his first year on injured reserve after damage to his Achilles tendon. Even after the next season started, Jones wasn't 100 percent.
Reggie has had one simple response to all of these setbacks: "Never quit. I don't have that kind of attitude."
This is an attitude, he says, that he learned from his grandmother, a woman he very much looks up to after doing her level best to raise him and his two sisters.
He's put that work ethic into good use after signing onto the Vikings practice squad from the Redskins roster in the middle of the 2011 season.
"I got to learn, pick up from some of the vets and just kind of see what to do and what not to do, and I think that's given me a little bit of a head start going into training camp"
The ability to learn from vets, he says, has been a key part of his development. "Just watching Antoine, a little bit. Watching his footwork. When I first came in, you know when he wasn't playing, he gave me very little hints here and there ... [I've been] picking up different things from different people"
Jones has always made it a habit to pick the brains of veterans on the roster, making sure he could pick up more tools of the trade from the more experienced defensive backs on every one of his teams.
While he has played in a variety of defensive systems, he has embraced the philosophy behind Alan Williams' defense. Less aggressive than other systems, the young cornerback says that Williams' system "works." He took particular care to point out that Alan Williams makes sure to design his system around the strengths of the players on the roster.
Even with a different defensive coordinator running the Vikings schemes in 2011, Jones sees the development he did with the Vikings this past season as crucial.
"It's pretty much the same defense [as last year], a few wrinkles here and there, but I got to learn and pick up from some of the vets."
That comfort has been part of the reason he's been playing so well in the past couple of days. His familiarity with the defense has given him a level of confidence that allows him to make the key plays he needs to make.
"That confidence is everything. If you don't have confidence ... you're playing scared, really." He was careful to stress that he wasn't cocky, however. What's important to him is that he plays with a level of confidence that puts his teammates in a position to win.
If the past three days are any indication, it's a strategy that's worked. He has consistently used his physical play to reroute receivers and move them out of their comfort zone, while still maintaining pace. More than that, he has been shining in one-on-one drills and shutting down a number of receivers who are hoping to make the team.
Wednesday, however, has been his best day so far.
With two pass deflections—one in one-on-ones and the other in seven-on-sevens, Jones has looked good adjusting to the ball in the air. Beyond that, he's developed enough savvy and skill to jump receiver routes and make the play.
He showed this ability by intercepting an otherwise well thrown ball from Sage Rosenfels to Kerry Taylor, correctly reading Taylor's in-route. The interception would be returned for a touchdown.
This field intelligence may not just come from his time on the practice squad, however. At Portland State, he was asked to pick up receiver duties to pick up a slackening offense. This has given him an advantage he says, in knowing what receivers are thinking.
"Obviously, every receiver is different, but being able to know the basics ... of what they're doing. It allows me to be a step ahead and allow me to [say] "what do I think in this situation?"
He'll need to use this advantage to the very best of his ability, because he'll be fighting for time on a very crowded defensive back roster. That doesn't worry him, though.
"In professional sports ... there's always guys coming in. So, you can't really worry about that; all you can do is what you're supposed to do. Just make plays on the ball and let the coaches upstairs figure out what happens after that."
Brian Robison, a starting defensive end, doesn't seem to think this will be a problem, either. He went out of his way to interrupt the interview in order to drive home the point.
"He's going to be a future star. Showtime!"
If he keeps making plays like he did Wednesday afternoon, he should have no problem.